I just finished reading The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. I have had this book on my shelf for 12 years. I bought it in a phase where I was voraciously reading books about loving myself and how to do that, but for whatever reason, I had a block to picking it up and reading it then, and every time I have gone to do it since then.
I have purged and donated unread books or books I was done with, probably 5 or 6 times over the years, and yet it has remained on the shelf. I couldn’t get rid of it. It just wasn’t time, yet my soul knew there was something there for me.
Old patterns and new challenges
One of the interesting things about reading this book is that it was initially published in 1991, only a decade out from the huge social changes of the second wave of feminism in the 70s.
The shifting views of women’s rights and roles were still pretty new in 1991. Since it was pre-internet, much of the book’s focus was on print media, especially women’s magazines, TV commercials, and ads for beauty products, fashion, cosmetics, all of those things.
That was really where we got all of them our information about beauty standards back then. I was born in the 70s, and I grew up in the 80s and 90s, so this really spoke to my early development, and I could see how all of that had really informed how I see myself, my own relationship to beauty, value, and dieting.
Sadly, even though there has been a lot of progress in awareness in many ways in the 30 years since then, there have also been new challenges.
There is now the internet and widespread access to and use of pornography, along with the advent of social media and its prevalence and inescapable influence, especially on young girls.
There’s a whole new generation of women fighting a new war with beauty, objectivity, and crippling insecurity.
A message of division
What we currently see in the mirror is what we have absorbed from so many overt and covert messages. We see people depicted in and by the media from the beauty and fashion industries, from social media. All of which benefit from women feeling inadequate and isolated and competing with one another.
When women doubt themselves, we spend more. When women feel less than, we speak up less. We ask for less. We expect less.
When we fight against one another, we don’t have the strength to fight for causes together.
The second thing that stuck with me is the idea of “women together.” We don’t often see each other as women together. We spend so much of our time comparing ourselves to other women, to a standard of beauty that has been decided without our input and that is different from our beauty standards.
We spend so much time and energy criticizing and judging one another based on these standards.
We dress for each other, not for ourselves. As a result, we feel threatened by each other’s successes and beauty or feel superior based on someone else’s lack. We look at someone else’s “perfect life” or “perfect family” on social media, and we feel jealous and insecure.
We soak up reality shows about beautiful women finding love or beautiful women fighting with each other. Or even better beautiful women finding love and fighting with each other and then losing it all. Right?
The “threat” of beauty
This isn’t because women, by nature, are mean and catty. I don’t buy into that. We have been sold the idea that beauty is an asset, beauty is value, and beauty is a threat.
That beauty, no matter what aspect of it we’re talking about, is the thing we should spend our lives focusing on, that our beauty or lack of is our value, and there is a finite amount.
When I say beauty here, I’m not just talking about facial features, hair color, or texture. I’m talking about beauty in all of its categories, including body shape, body size, fitness, fatness, as well as so many other things.
The beauty myth
As Wolf says, “Solidarity is hardest to find when women learn to see each other as beauties first. The beauty myth urges women to believe it’s every woman for herself.”
I’ve been thinking so much about this concept since I read it. I started to notice when I found myself judging or criticizing other women.
I have been paying attention to when I notice that I’m looking another woman up and down and judging her outfit or judging people on Instagram or on shows that I watch, assessing them based on how they look, on their choices of clothing, or hairstyles.
I’ve never realized this or thought of it consciously before, but it seems like that’s what’s happening, and I don’t like it.
I especially don’t like it when I think about the fact that I do this because I’ve been taught explicitly and implicitly that the way people look is an important piece of information.
This constant comparison in which one woman’s worth fluctuates through the presence of another divides and conquers. It forces women to be acutely critical of other women’s choices about how they look.
Even more disturbing to me is that the judgment that I exercised toward other women is a small fraction of what I exercise on myself in the same and even harsher ways.
In fact, that’s how I know how to judge and criticize. I have learned to judge and criticize myself based on cultural beauty ideals and standards. I do it all day long. So, no wonder I do it to other women.
It’s how my brain is wired. Look for flaws, find them, call them out, feel terrible about them, and then apply to every woman everywhere.
This makes me sad, and it magnifies my feeling alone because I walk around in the world othering myself, thinking of how I am separate or different or looking for how someone else is separate or different.
This got me thinking about how I shift this way of looking at me and other women as one, with more things the same than different, instead of as other, as enemies, as rivals, as competition.
Curiosity over competition
I just got home from a quick trip to Disneyland for my daughter’s birthday, which followed a weekend attending a dance competition with my other daughter. I decided this was a perfect opportunity to try on a new way of looking at and relating to other women with less judgment and more compassion and comradery.
I challenged myself to really think about this consciously as I was out in public and with women for several days.
As I walked around the dance competition and Disneyland, I saw hundreds of women, and I consciously thought, “We are all on the same team.”
All of us suffer. All of us feel. We’ve all been subject to messages about how we appear that have us focusing on that and feeling inadequate and objectified at times.
We are so much more than how we look or how we’re shaped, or what we’re wearing. I found myself asking I wonder who she is? I wonder what she’s been through and experienced? I wonder what she would teach me if she could? I wonder what she feels?
My curiosity left no room for judgment.
This is something I’ve shared with you before. Curiosity and judgment just can’t coexist.
One of the other things I challenged myself to look for is that radiance, that light that humans possess when they are just being themselves unencumbered.
Wolf describes it; “This light doesn’t photograph well, can’t be measured on a scale of 1-10, won’t be quantified in a lab report, a radiance can immerge from faces and bodies, making them truly beautiful. To see this light, though, it seems one has to look for it.”
And so I looked. I looked for women glowing as they laughed with their loved ones. I saw women light up with pride as they watched their daughters dance. I watched grandma’s faces glow as they gazed at their grandchildren. Women radiated as they had fun, walked proudly, held hands, and helped and loved.
And looking for this light in others lit me up too. Seeing women as my allies had me extending more compassion to myself too.
A challenge for you
If we’re all in the same team, I’m on that team too. So, I want to extend the same challenge to you.
Notice where you are judging others and yourself. Notice how you view other women as rivals or allies. See if you can identify some of your beliefs about beauty and value.
Look for the light in yourself and others. Open the door for a woman who’s struggling, meet her eyes, and smile.
I see you. I am working hard to more fully and compassionately see all women for their particular and beautiful light. I’m working just as hard to see my own. I hope, as women, we will all do the same for one another. We’re on the same team.
All of us suffer. All of us feel. All of us have radiant light inside. We just have to let it shine.
If you want to learn more about my mindset-centered approach to weight loss, start with my free PDF, Freedom From Food Rules. You’ll learn why you don’t need to follow any food rules to lose weight—and how to use the Next 24 Hours Method instead.